Two crushing season-ending losses to Dallas gave the Eagles all the evidence they needed.
They had to improve their pass rush, and the best way to do that in the off-season was to get an unrelenting defensive end.
After the Eagles traded up to select Brandon Graham of Michigan in the first round of Thursday's NFL draft - duping many prognosticators - Andy Reid said they got their man. The Eagles coach labeled Graham a "relentless player."
"We went into this off-season wanting to better ourselves on the defensive line," Reid said at the NovaCare Complex. "We think that this helps us out. The thing I know with a good defensive line is that it makes everybody around them better."
To get the 6-foot-1, 268-pound Graham the Eagles packaged both of their third round picks - the 70th and 87th overall - with their first-round selection, the 24th overall, to get Denver's 13th pick. The Eagles, according to a team source, jumped ahead 11 spots because they were concerned that Tennessee and Atlanta, with the 16th and 19th picks, respectively, were hot for the 22-year-old Graham.
The NFC East rival Giants took South Florida end Jason Pierre-Paul first at No. 15. But the Titans followed up by grabbing Georgia Tech end Derrick Morgan of Coatesville. The Falcons ended up with Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
"It was a sticky area," Reid said. "The good defensive ends, the good secondary players, the good offensive tackles - those guys normally go early in the draft."
The Eagles let Julius Peppers get away, the all-pro free agent end who chose the Bears and their higher offer over the Eagles in March. They weren't going to let another one slip from their grasp. With the addition of Graham and Darryl Tapp, the former Seahawks end they acquired in a trade last month, the Eagles said they have more pieces to complement Pro Bowler Trent Cole.
Cole tallied 121/2 sacks last season, but the double and triple teams he faced all year wore him down as the season progressed. A rotation of Juqua Parker, Victor Abiamiri, along with Graham and Tapp, should free up Cole more.
"It's a great combination of guys there," Reid said.
A strong pass rush should also help a secondary that was taxed by season's end, and torched by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. The Eagles are expected to address the defensive backfield, however, Friday with two second-round picks remaining.
Keeping the 37th pick - they received it from Washington in exchange for Donovan McNabb - and 55th overall picks was crucial.
"We wanted to keep our two twos," Reid said. "Those are two valuable picks there."
During four years at Ann Arbor, Graham recorded 291/2 sacks and 56 tackles for loss. He had entered the off-season evaluation period with questions about his height, however. But he answered those concerns with an MVP performance in the Senior Bowl in January, recording two sacks, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble.
"After the Senior Bowl, I really didn't hear that much too much," Graham said by conference call.
It was the first time the Eagles have taken a defensive end since 2003, when they traded up to pick Jerome McDougle of Miami. McDougle never panned out, partly because of a freak incident when he was shot during an attempted carjacking.
"He looks a little bit like Hugh Douglas," Reid said of Graham, referring to the former Eagles end. "He kind of plays like Hugh Douglas."
Aside from passing on Morgan and Pierre-Paul, the Eagles also skipped on a number of other players they were rumored to covet - safety Earl Thomas of Texas, cornerback Kyle Wilson of Boise State, and center Maurkice Pouncey of Florida.
Even Graham was shocked that the Eagles took him.
"I was very surprised because the Eagles at the combine - for 15 minutes I talked to a couple of scouts," Graham said. "But never in a million years did I think Philadelphia was coming for me."
Not that Graham didn't think he was worth the Eagles, who sought a potential trade partner all Thursday, trading up. Asked what kind of player the Eagles had drafted themselves, he rambled off a list of his positive attributes.
"Great pass rusher. Disruptive run-stopper. High-motor guy," he said.
And then, catching himself, Graham added: "Humble guy."
Punter Sav Rocca signed a one-year contract Thursday when he inked a tender worth $1.101 million. He was the Eagles' last restricted free agent.
Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.